On Bottled Water

I sure do feel bad for the bottled water people. Maybe I better explain.

Back in the late 1980's, young upwardly mobile professionals — yuppies, if you recall the term — suddenly had cash to burn. This was the baby boom generation, you see. It demanded the good life — the best of everything.

The baby boomers rejected the simple approach of their cost-conscious parents. To heck with Folgers, they demanded fresh-roasted specialty coffees (Starbucks). To heck with Budweiser, they wanted specialty beers (micro-brews). And to heck with fresh water that poured right out of your kitchen tap, they wanted bottled spring water from exotic mountains.

Older generations never could understand the concept of bottled water. My father (the Big Guy) surely couldn't.

Big guy: You pay money for something that comes out of your kitchen tap?

Yuppy: That's right.

Big guy: But you're paying $10 a gallon for something you already have.

Yuppy: Only the best for me.

Big guy: But water is free.

And so it was that the trendy crowd turned the bottled water market into a gold mine. By 2004, some 41 billion gallons were sold — that's upwards of $100 billion in revenue. But suddenly the bottled-water party is over.

You see, many of the same trendy folks who made bottled water hip have decided to stop drinking it because another trend is more hip.

According to Newsday, bottled water is bad for the environment. It requires some 50 million gallons of oil each year to produce the plastic bottles in which it is contained. Add to that the energy burned to produce and ship it and you have the save-the-environment people breathing down your neck.

Suddenly, cities such as New York are spending big money on advertising campaigns that encourage people to forsake bottled water — that encourage people to drink the water that comes out of their kitchen tap.

Some restaurants are banning bottled water, too.

"We don't look at it as losing money, we look at it as investing in the world," said Del Posto co-owner Joe Bastianich in Newsday. He said his restaurant will make and sell its own mineral water on site using tap water.

That's right, tap water. Tap water is suddenly chic. And I can't think of a concept that better illustrates the nuttiness of our country.

Look, America's fresh, clean, safe water is the envy of the world. Throughout the history of mankind, civilizations sought to pipe water into homes — remember the Romans — and many civilizations are still failing at it.

Any sane fellow knows you don't drink the water when you've visiting Mexico or many other countries on two-thirds of the planet. You don't drink it because it's polluted and poisoned and all kinds of little living entities are swimming around waiting to attack your intestines.

But in America, the water is pure. Virtually every home in every part of the country has a kitchen tap that offers an unlimited supply of it. You pull the tap and out it comes — safe, clean, rigorously-regulated water.

Our tap water is a reflection of our country — a reflection of how incredibly successful the American experiment has been. It's also a reflection of how lazy and ignorant and unaware so many Americans have become — because we take our water for granted.

Until recently, we demanded "better" water — the stuff that comes in bottles. And now that is bad for us, too.

The whole bottled-water concept makes me wonder how many other things we're taking for granted.

Our freedom? In many places around the world, the government runs everything (Cuba, for instance) and the people have nothing —because the government runs everything.

Yet some Americans are eager to dismantle the system that created our wealth, because they think the government can do better — the same people who used to think bottled water was better.

All I know is the older I get, the wiser my father becomes. He knew 20 years ago or more that the bottled-water trend was just that — a nutty trend.

If only the rest of America was as wise as he.

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  • Guest

    Affluence breeds ignorance as well as obesity, laziness apathy and a host of vices that do nothing to enhance civilization. I'm sure at another time I could give you as many virtues that affluence has enhanced. I would argue that we are a weaker rather than stronger people as a result of the extra spending power. Could it be that affluence is more of a curse than a blessing? "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle……" says the Lord. The older I get the wiser the Lord becomes.


  • Guest

    Goral, that’s an excellent point. I have always thought the bottled water thing was getting out of control, and I’m sure you’re right that it is a result of people flaunting their spending power. Not that bottled water doesn’t have its place, but it has gotten really excessive. I was not aware that the pendulum was spinning the other way.

  • Guest

    Gotta tell you: I worked for a urologist in souther lower Michigan who confided to me that he saw a higher incidence of bladder cancer in our small town than in the whole tri-state area (Mich., Ohio, and Indiana).  That's when we started buying distilled water for consumption arround the house.  (Spring water, btw, is just tap water put in a bottle.)  We put it in used plastic bottles and carry it with us.  We still do this even though we've moved to a different community.  We intend to do this in the future, too, not because we are "Yuppies" (we're too old), but because we are trying to trying to "age" as best we can.  Considering all the pollution in various areas, bottled water may not be such an "affectation" after all.

  • Guest

    Mr. Purcell has obviously not ever imbibed the ever fresh wells of Gila Bend, Arizona.  The folks there would canonize the guy who first thought of bottled water.